David Bowie – Changes

This is the first Bowie song I remember hearing when I was really young. I associated it more with “Ziggy Stardust” as I remember cousins talking about him. This song was not a massive hit but is still continually played on the radio.

It was on my personal favorite album by Bowie…Hunky Dory.

The song features the work of musicians like Rick Wakeman, Mick Ronson, and Bowie playing the saxophone himself. According to Bowie, the song started out as a parody of night club life but evolved into a criticism of an artist looking for new ways to reinvent himself. Bowie continually reinvented his image, and the song eventually became a close relation of Bowie himself.

Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own.

The song peaked at #66 in the Billboard 100 in 1972 but recharted at #41 in 1975.

It charted for the first time on theĀ UK Singles Chart in 2016 at number 49 following Bowie’s death.

From Songfacts

This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention.

According to Bowie, this song was a “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie had just started using a keyboard to write songs, which opened up new possibilities for him in terms of melody and structure. This fresh approach resulted in “Changes.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later became a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Bowie’s stuttered vocals in this song (“Ch-Ch-Changes”) are some of the most famous stutters in rock. It came well after “My G-G-Generation” but predated “B-B-B-Bennie And The Jets.

According to Mike Garson, who became Bowie’s keyboard player in 1972, when he auditioned for the gig, he played the first eight seconds of “Changes” when Bowie stopped him and gave him the gig.

Changes

Oh, yeah
Mmm

Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
There’s gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Mmm, yeah

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame?
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Strange fascinations fascinate me
Ah, changes are takin’
The pace I’m goin’ through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Ooh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time